Last week, Biz Latin Hub had the opportunity to speak with Carin Verbree, the manager of Holland House Mexico. Holland House is the newly established Dutch chamber of commerce based in Mexico City. Biz Latin Hubs catches up with Ms Verbree to find out how the chamber plans to grow itself within Mexico and facilitate Dutch businesses entry into the Mexican market.
Carin, thank you for agreeing to speak with Biz Latin Hub today. Holland House is a new chamber of commerce. How did it come to be established here in Mexico?
Over the past few years, the Dutch Energy Association started, which came from the need for unification within the energy sector which is mainly oil and gas and maritime issues. Three Dutch people came together to unite their efforts and made a not-for-profit organisation that can help unify this industry and grow it together. That in itself is a very Dutch idea, that together we can do so much more and together we are stronger. That’s how they started out, and then two years ago they hired a coordinator to run the Dutch Energy Association.
Out of that in combination with changes in The Netherlands, there is now a special organisation that overlooks the Holland Houses, called NLinBusiness. What they seek to do is provide services that go beyond the first contact with a new market. So really, they take the company by the hand and guide them towards success within a foreign market. All of this came together and 2 of the original 3 wanted to make this much broader and create a chamber of commerce.
There has been another initiative, which started 20 years ago, and the idea of the new chamber was pitched to this business club, and that’s when one of the leaders decided to get on board with the project. This all happened within the last year and in February we opened our doors and that’s when I got involved with the chamber.
What are the main objectives of the chambers of commerce? How can it facilitate Dutch businesses in Mexico?
There are two main objectives. The first is to promote international trade between The Netherlands and Mexico. The second objective answers your second question as what we really want to do is provide a soft landing for Dutch SMEs to begin business in Mexico.
How do we do that? We offer a range of services. Some of them you can see here: we offer co-working spaces. It is a small investment that can help in the initial stages of your expansion.
We also offer a virtual office and telephone services which provide a phone number in Mexico. We offer services such as help with setting up a legal entity and migration issues. One of the services I personally really like is the ability to hire a local representative for your company, starting at one day a week. In that sense we’re going to have a commercial mission in June. For instance, if there is a company that sees a great opportunity and they want to get involved but they have to go home [to The Netherlands], that person can hire a legal representative for one day per week. You then really have that follow up in person, as someone is working here in Mexico that you instruct, who is more or less your employee, but at a much lower cost and in an easier way.
What are some key industries that have the potential for Dutch business in Mexico? I know The Netherlands has expertise in agriculture, which is an important sector to the Mexican economy.
Yes, that’s actually one of the main sectors. I didn’t know this until earlier this week but The Netherlands is the second biggest exporter of agricultural products in the world. I was really shocked. We’re such a small country, only 300 by 500 kilometres so that’s tiny. Those are very impressive numbers and it says a lot about technology and I think in general, what we really have in The Netherlands in knowledge and technology. That’s in different sectors where we are really strong. [such as] agriculture and horticulture.
There is life science, for companies such as Philips. We have energy, oil and gas principally but also maritime issues. Rotterdam is one of the biggest ports in the world. Then there is renewables, sustainable energy and water management. Obviously, those are very strong points for the Dutch as we all get wet feet if we don’t do things right. Then there is advanced manufacturing.
Why these five sectors? We looked at the Mexican market and identified where we would have the best opportunities. So what we want to do is to create different sectors within Holland House for these five topics. We already have energy and maritime. In June we are opening agrifood and horticulture.
With the effects of climate change threatening many industries in Mexico, is there an opportunity to export green energy services and knowledge from The Netherlands to Mexico?
There are definitely opportunities. It is also a complicated market. I spoke to some people recently who were, what I thought, a company in green energy, and they admitted to me that 80% of their sales are in fossil fuel production. That is not an exception. So I think it is a very necessary step to take and countries such as The Netherlands are real pioneers when trying to find green solutions.
But I also think we have a long way to go. We do highly support these initiatives and that’s why the Dutch Energy Association, which is now called energy and maritime within Holland House, they are branching out towards renewables as well. We’re planning a commercial mission for October in which we will be talking about solar opportunities in the Mexican market. There is a lot of technology there.
Most of the solar panels used in Mexico are Chinese. Those are fine but there are many solutions that go beyond just what a solar panel can do. For example, the glass of a building can be a solar panel but still be glass. Those are the type of technologies we have in The Netherlands and we would like to introduce into Mexico.
In terms of business culture, how do The Netherlands and Mexico differ? What might be some challenges that Dutch firms could face while operating in Mexico?
There are so many differences. I think culturally, we are very, very different. One that really stands out is the hierarchy. The
Netherlands is a very horizontal society. We really don’t believe in following the leader or that someone else would know more than you do just because they have a higher position. Here, if you don’t talk to the right person then there’s no point having meetings; you won’t get anywhere because the person you talk to is not allowed to make any decisions. Often what we see is that Dutch companies don’t realise who they have to talk to in Mexico, so that is one of the challenges.
The other one I would mention is that the Dutch are very confident about what they say. What we say in a meeting is what we will actually do. We really expect any other [person]to do the exact same. That expectation is very different here in Mexico; yes can mean “let’s see what happens”.
There is also the issue of time. In The Netherlands, we are really precise on time and very punctual, whereas, in Mexico, time is relative. So those are some of the main obstacles that need to be overcome in order to do good business and understand that a yes does not always mean yes in Mexico. It can mean many things.
Are you able to share any success stories you’ve had involvement with, in terms of Dutch businesses in Mexico, or Mexican businesses in The Netherlands?
This chamber has not existed for that long yet but I can tell you about a project underway right now. This is a company that develops highly specialised instruction videos. They are looking to expand into Mexico and have already successfully expanded into other Latin American countries such as Colombia.
What we are going to do is a type of specialised matchmaking service. We are going to be talking to all different types of Mexican government institutions that are specialised in different types of education. In the long run, you would expect politecnico (university), for instance, to be able to offer these types of courses. That’s an example of the services we can provide.
I understand that Holland House has a larger presence in Latin America, not just Mexico. Where else is the Chambers operating and what degrees of success have they had?
In the beginning, I was telling you a little bit about NLinBusiness so what they really want to do is set up different business hubs around the world. Right now they have six different offices, of which two are in Latin America, in Colombia and Mexico. There is one in China, Germany, Malaysia, Dubai and Vietnam. The goal is to have a whole network of over 40 different Holland Houses by 2030. They’re really trying to advance.
At the moment there is some cooperation between different Holland Houses. I just went to Colombia, for instance, to see how they do things there. They have been established for five years and are now the second largest chamber of commerce in Colombia. The aim is to make a network out of all of the Holland Houses so you can go to one, then visit another and you get the same types of services and treatment, so you can expand easily. At the moment we are really focused on setting up just Mexico and Panama, which is starting up too. Once they’re established, we can start looking to collaborate. That is the objective but it will take time. If we can establish such a network that will not only help Dutch firms to go to one country but be able to expand easily to different countries, then that’s beautiful.
What’s next for Holland House in terms of growing itself in Mexico and creating alliances?
We have a lot of work to do, as I said. First off, in June we’re going tostart the new sector which is agrifood and horticulture.
Little by little, we want to see where the biggest interests lie from our members and other companies we get in touch with. In terms of the sectors, I feel [the interest] is going to be towards sustainability and water, but it could also be life sciences. We will have to see which one is first and if we have the capacity we start them at the same time.
We are busy creating more alliances with other chambers. We’re in the process of becoming part of EuroCam. I have just had a meeting this morning with the Nordic chamber to do an event together so, being very Dutch, we are trying to team up with the other chambers. We’re going to do a project with the German chamber in September. If everything goes well, in November we will have the official accreditation of the chamber of commerce from The Netherlands. We will be having some very important visitors.
I know that in Colombia the King and Queen came to inaugurate the chamber of commerce. I am not sure if we’re going to be that lucky, but it’s going to be someone very important! So, those are some of the goals we have for this year and we’re trying to expand wherever possible.
Biz Latin Hub: It all sounds very exciting for Holland House at the moment. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.
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